Shetland, Werewolves and Fish

So now that Christmas is over I was reminded the other day about the Shetland Werewolf. This legend has some similarities to the monster variety and bits that are about as far away as is humanly possible.

https://folklorethursday.com/legends/werewolves-that-fish-and-fight-in-battles-the-scottish-wulver-and-irish-faoladh-in-folklore/

So as you know, or may not know, I live on the Shetland Islands, never ever call them the Shetland’s! We sit half way between Aberdeen and Bergen and as such have an interesting mix of myths and legends. Some come from Scotland and others from Norway.

So anyway, the Shetland werewolf… up here he is called Wulver and he is not a true biomorphic beastie. He has a head of a wolf and the body of a man and is covered in short brown hair. He never changes and remains in this state. A full moon does absolutely nothing apart from allow him to be seen clearer.

He has none of the malignant nastiness of the werewolf of other cultures, the Wulver is seen as a kind spirit and if you leave him alone to live life how he wants then this happy state remains. No-one really knows what happened if he was molested, perhaps no-one survived to tell the tale!

Sightings of the Wulver were supposedly common until the 20th Century. He isn’t mentioned any earlier, but with the vast majority of Shetland folk way back speaking Norn then written accounts would not exist.

The written account came about in 1932. He was described like this in Shetland Traditional Lore…

The Wulver was a creature like a man with a wolf’s head. He had short brown hair all over him. His home was a cave dug out of the side of a steep knowe, half-way up a hill. He didn’t molest folk if folk didn’t molest him. He was fond of catching and eating fish, and had a small rock in the deep water which is known to this day as the “Wulver’s Stane”. There he would sit fishing sillaks and piltaks for hour after hour. He was reported to have frequently left a few fish on the window-sill of some poor body.

Siltaks are young saithe (coley) up to one year old and piltaks are up to two years old… news to me as I thought they were different species!

Photo by Mike Pennington

The Wulver would be known to share his catch with passers by and would often help people who were lost in the wilds. One of the other things that he is known for doing is that he would leave fish on the doorstep of people who had fallen on hard times. He would also be heard crying outside when someone in a house was dying. This was seen as a kind gesture and not as a harbinger of death.

So there you have it, a fish eating werewolf with a gentle side… People have tried to hypothesise that it could be someone with a congenital complaint of Hypertrichosis…

To end with, George MacDonald in 1871 (I think), wrote a story called ‘The Grey Wolf’ which is set in Shetland, which is a little unusual as there is no record of wolves ever being up here.

5 thoughts on “Shetland, Werewolves and Fish

  1. Really interesting! The word “sillak” is really interesting too – in Finnish, a Baltic herring is called a “silakka”, wonder if there’s a connection there.

    Liked by 1 person

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